Inspiring Joseph Haydn to compose oratorios was the ardent wish of Gottfried van Swieten, who admired Bach and did everything to bring Handel’s traditions to Viennese soil. For this wish to come true Haydn had to undertake two trips to England, under impressions of a performance of The Messiah, sailing across the sea and observing the stars through a telescope.
Haydn began to compose The Creation in the autumn of 1796 and completed his work the next autumn. In April 1798 came the first performance of the oratorio, accessible only to members of the Gesellschaft der Associierten (or “Society of Noble Citizens”) which was managed by van Swieten and which included literally all of Beethoven’s current and future benefactors. It was only one year later that The Creation was performed for wider audiences.
In the three movements of the oratorio Haydn brings the audience from the chaos of the orchestral introduction to the cosmos of the final chorus. The course of events follows the Book of Genesis – the verses of the first chapters are heard in the recitatives. Everything that is created – be it light, darkness, earth, water, verdure, heavenly birds or earthly beasts – is initially embodied vividly and pictorially in Haydn’s music and only subsequent to that is it named in word. The first movement of the oratorio tells of the first four days of the Creation, the second ends with the appearance of man and the third depicts Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden.